Developing Bible Study Skills - 3

Psalm 34 and David’s experiences

This study is designed to highlight a number of different aspects of Bible study, as follows:

  • that Bible study is not difficult or the preserve of the intellectual
  • the need to give careful attention to the text
  • the importance of context
  • the value of comparing Scripture with Scripture
  • the value of recording and preserving information found.

You will need:  Bible with marginal references;  Concordance or computerised Bible

The title of Psalm 34 says: “A Psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed”. It is suggested that the historical narrative which describes this event is to be found in 1 Samuel 21:10-15.

The issues we wish to investigate are:

• Can we establish whether “Abimelech” in the psalm is “Achish” in 1 Samuel 21:10?

• Is it possible to see similar concerns in both the psalm and 1 Samuel 21?

• What are the main concerns in the psalm?

• Who are the “children” of Psalm 34:11?

It is assumed that the psalm titles are part of Scripture, and thus inspired comments. If this is correct, there is value to be gained from looking at the psalm titles. Establishing that the psalm titles are part of Scripture is outside the scope of this article. However, a start would be to review the way in which the title of Psalm 18 forms part of the historical account in 2 Samuel 22.

Psalm 34 and 1 Samuel 21

As stated above, we learn from the title of Psalm 34 that it was prompted by a historical event in the life of David. A Bible with marginal references will probably direct our attention to 1 Samuel 21:10: “And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath”; but although in the psalm David speaks of “Abimelech”, the historical account speaks of “Achish”.

We ask, Is the psalm related to this event?

Although the marginal reference takes us to 1 Samuel 21, the difference in name might indicate that it is speaking of a different event from the psalm. We should note the difference and not simply assume that our marginal reference is correct. We can answer this question by reviewing the context of the Samuel account to see if it fits the title of the psalm.

In both 1 Samuel 21:13 and the title of Psalm 34 the phrase “he changed his behaviour before” occurs. Further, this phrase is not found anywhere else in the Bible; this can be discovered using the Online Bible’s search phrase facility. We will return to the relevance of context in understanding the psalm later.

Abimelech and Achish

There is a more important issue that we must resolve first: Why speak of Achish in 1 Samuel 21:10 and Abimelech in Psalm 34? This is where our concordance or computerised Bible will be of great value.

Look up Achish and Abimelech in a concordance or computerised Bible

A search for the name ‘Achish’ reveals that it is found twenty-one times in Scripture. All but two relate to two occasions when David went to the Philistines, as recorded in 1 Samuel 21 and 1 Samuel 27–29. The other two relate to an event in the early reign of Solomon.

Many of the occurrences of ‘Abimelech’ are to do with the lives of Abraham (Gen. 20,21) and Isaac (Gen. 26). A further block, in Judges 8–10, relate to a son of Gideon, as does the reference in 2 Samuel 11:21. 1 Chronicles 18:16 refers to “Abimelech the son of Abiathar” the priest, and not the “Abimelech/Achish” of David’s time.

We now ask, What does the name ‘Abimelech’ signify? The Hebrew breaks into three parts: Ab-i-melech.

Ab means ‘father’

i makes ‘father’ into ‘my father’

melech means ‘king’.

Achish was able to say, ‘My father is king’, thus demonstrating that his kingship was one which was passed from father to son rather than being a consequence of his own military conquests. Therefore ‘Abimelech’ is a title, like ‘Pharaoh’, not a proper name. We conclude, therefore, that the man whom David “changed his behaviour before” had the name ‘Achish’, but his title was ‘Abimelech’.

Why was Psalm 34 written?

Having established that Psalm 34 is speaking of the events of 1 Samuel 21:10-15, we can now consider it alongside the historical record in 1 Samuel to see what prompted the writing of the psalm.

Read 1 Samuel 21:10–22:5 and Psalm 34

Now is a good time to read 1 Samuel 21:10–22:5 and Psalm 34. As you do so, be alert to key words and try to work out David’s state of mind, in both the historical record and the psalm. There is a theme common to both the historical record and the psalm. It is ‘fear’.

1 Samuel 21.David “fled that day for fear of Saul” (v. 10); David “was sore afraid of Achish” (v. 12).

Psalm 34. ‘Fear’ is mentioned in verses 4, 7, 9 and 11. Also, ‘troubles’ are mentioned in verses 6 and 17.

There are other themes common to both 1 Samuel 21 and Psalm 34, but we will focus on this one. According to 1 Samuel 21, David fled in fear from Saul, but when he was before Achish he was even more afraid. This is seen in the repeated use of ‘fear’ and ‘troubles’ in the psalm. So it is clear that the psalm, written after David’s deliverance from Achish, reflects his feelings at that time.

Having noticed this link between 1 Samuel 21 and Psalm 34, we must ask, How is David’s fear reflected in the psalm? How did he respond to his fear of Saul and Achish? Athough David is afraid of both Saul and Achish, the psalm shows a different side of him. He is encouraging ‘fear’ of God (vv. 7,9), as He has delivered David from his fear of Saul and Achish (vv. 4,6).

On reading the psalm a further question arises. Is it possible to decide who the children of verse 11 are? We can do so by reading on past the chapter division at the end of 1 Samuel 21 into 1 Samuel 22. 1 Samuel 22 opens with David’s flight to the cave of Adullam, where he was joined by 400 men. It would appear that the psalm was spoken to them in the cave. David became their leader and instructed them by using his own experiences before Saul and Achish and the wonderful way in which God had delivered him. Having learnt the fear of the Lord himself, he now teaches those who come to him in the cave “the fear of the LORD” (Ps. 34:11).

Interestingly, part of the psalm (vv. 12-16) was used subsequently by Peter (1 Pet. 3:10-12) to encourage brethren and sisters who were experiencing persecution, like David and those who came to him in the cave. Your marginal references will provide you with the link, but that is another subject. You might like to follow it up for yourself.

Relating different parts of Scripture

We have seen from this study that it is important to think of related parts of Scripture during our reading. We should not always assume that there is no relationship between two passages simply because of differences between the two passages. A reflection on names and their distribution in Scripture has helped us to understand the relationship between two seemingly different names. By thinking of the theme of 1 Samuel 21 and then reading Psalm 34 carefully, we have seen how the psalm reflects David’s concerns in the historical account. Further, we have seen the way in which David learnt from his experiences and then taught others. It is important to be able to learn lessons for life from our Bible study. Just acquiring facts and knowledge is sterile.

Record your findings

As stated in the previous article, it is important to make notes of our findings in a location where they are easily accessible. Maybe underlining the words ‘fear’ and ‘trouble’ in both the psalm and 1 Samuel 21 will help. Also, it might be worth writing 1 Samuel 21:10 against the title of Psalm 34, and Psalm 34 against 1 Samuel 21:10, so that when you read these passages again you will be reminded of your discoveries. You might also put Psalm 34:11 against 1 Samuel 22:2.

This article was originally published by The Testimony Magazine. Many articles to encourage personal study of Bible principles are available at The Testimony Magazine website Copying this article for distribution is encouraged on the conditional that the article is distributed in full without modification.